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**Random Matrix Theory
**

April 12th, 2010

Via: New Scientist: SUPPOSE we had a theory that could explain everything. Not just atoms and quarks but aspects of our everyday lives too. Sound impossible? Perhaps not. It’s all part of the recent explosion of work in an area of physics known as random matrix theory. Originally developed more than 50 years ago to describe the energy levels of atomic nuclei, the theory is turning up in everything from inflation rates to the behaviour of solids. So much so that many researchers believe that it points to some kind of deep pattern in nature that we don’t yet understand. “It really does feel like the ideas of random matrix theory are somehow buried deep in the heart of nature,” says electrical engineer Raj Nadakuditi of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. All of this, oddly enough, emerged from an effort to turn physicists’ ignorance into an advantage. In 1956, when we knew very little about the internal workings of large, complex atomic nuclei, such as uranium, the German physicist Eugene Wigner suggested simply guessing. Quantum theory tells us that atomic nuclei have many discrete energy levels, like unevenly spaced rungs on a ladder. To calculate the spacing between each of the rungs, you would need to know the myriad possible ways the nucleus can hop from one to another, and the probabilities for those events to happen. Wigner didn’t know, so instead he picked numbers at random for the probabilities and arranged them in a square array called a matrix.

Why they work. To this day. What is most remarkable. the Riemann zeta function. Technology | Top Of Page . These are numbers. let alone the nuclear energy levels. that are only divisible by themselves and 1. in the absence of any real knowledge. he found this simple approach enabled him to work out the likelihood that any one level would have others nearby. a German mathematician called Bernhard Riemann had conjectured a simple rule about where the zeros of the zeta function should lie. is how Wigner’s idea has been used since then. It also allowed Wigner to exploit the powerful mathematics of matrices in order to make predictions about the energy levels. The zeros are closely linked to the distribution of prime numbers. The strange descriptive power of random matrix theory doesn’t stop there. remains a mystery even today. Wigner’s results. Montgomery couldn’t either. Montgomery had been exploring one of the most famous functions in mathematics. Mathematician Andrew Odlyzko of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis has computed the locations of as many as 1023 zeros of the Riemann zeta function and found a near-perfect agreement with random matrix theory. They hold a special place in mathematics because every integer greater than 1 can be built from them. 3. Research Credit: Albino Posted in Coincidence?. 5 and 7. the physicist immediately recognised it as the very same one that Wigner had devised for nuclear energy levels. but he had worked out a formula for the likelihood of finding a zero. Bizarrely. It can be applied to a host of problems involving many interlinked variables whose connections can be represented as a random matrix. In the last decade. worked out in a few lines of algebra. which holds the key to finding prime numbers. But the link is unmistakable. were far more useful than anyone could have expected. and experiments over the next few years showed a remarkably close fit to his predictions.The matrix was a neat way to express the many connections between the different rungs. The first discovery of a link between Wigner’s idea and something completely unrelated to nuclear physics came about after a chance meeting in the early 1970s between British physicist Freeman Dyson and American mathematician Hugh Montgomery. though. though. When Montgomery told Dyson of this formula. it has proved itself particularly good at describing a wide range of messy physical systems. like 2. no one knows why prime numbers should have anything to do with Wigner’s random matrices. Mathematicians have never been able to prove Riemann’s hypothesis. if you already knew the location of another one nearby. In 1859.

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